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K’NEX Brands, the U.S. construction toy company focused on Building Worlds Kids Love®, is pleased to introduce Joey Brink, January and February’s Fan of the Month. We first heard about Joey through an article in Yale Scientific titled “Alumnus Profile: Joey Brink ’11, From K’NEX to Carillon." Joey, who received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Yale in 2011, is currently pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering at the University of Utah’s School of Engineering. Joey also has been selected by NASA as one of their 65 Space Technology Research Fellows for their class of 2013. Advised by mechanical engineering assistant professor Jake Abbott and teaming up with Jose Benevides at NASA, Joey will design free-flying magnetic robots that navigate spacecraft. We invite you to join us for a two part series on how K’NEX influenced Joey’s career choice and has turned him into a life-long builder.
K’NEX: What is your first memory of playing with K’NEX?
Joey: I remember building a few small K'NEX models with my dad, including a Ferris wheel. My first vivid memory of playing with K'NEX, though, was building one of the ball machines. This one I believe. I had always loved racing marbles down cardboard tubes and boxes that I had strung across my room. This K'NEX ball machine set was the first of many ball machines and roller-coaster sets.
K’NEX: What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever built with K’NEX?
Joey: I spent about 3 years in high school building a K'NEX ball-machine of my own design, drawing on concepts and ideas that I had learned from other K'NEX sets as well as conceiving and testing new ideas. I built the ball-machine on the slanted walls and ceiling of my bedroom in the attic of our house with about 22,000 K'NEX pieces. Four elevators stationed around the room lift balls up to the ceiling where they descend on one of 14 different tracks, flying through loop-de-loops, climbing a motorized piston staircase, triggering chain reactions, or falling off the careening track and hitting me in the head while I'm sleeping.
K’NEX: What core STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) concepts did you learn from building with K’NEX?
Joey: Although I did not know it at the time, I learned a lot about gear ratios and torque velocity profiles. I could lift something small very quickly with one K'NEX motor, or gear down the motor and lift something heavy very slowly. I discovered how rotational motion can translate into linear motion using pistons. I learned that gravity can be used to lift something, and that one motor can serve more than one job, like powering an elevator and also moving a turntable. I learned about center of gravity, levers and fulcrums, friction, inclined planes, as well as more load bearing concepts like trusses, buttresses, and 45 degree right triangular prisms stacking into more complex shapes.
K’NEX: What other skills did you learn/strengthen with K’NEX (problem solving, critical thinking, innovation)?
Joey: I attribute most of my mechanical creativity to the years I spent designing my own K'NEX ball-tracks. I sought ways to creatively replace elevators that lift balls up to the tracks, with or without motors. I learned the value of design simplicity, as well as the need for iterative redesigns.
K’NEX: When did you realize that the concepts you learned from building with K’NEX would influence your future career goals?
Joey: I remember sitting in Intro to Mechanical Engineering class as a sophomore at Yale University learning about gear trains. I realized that I had done all this before, just not as mathematically, with K'NEX. I then thought that maybe becoming engineer would be like playing with K'NEX and so I stuck with it. So far, I've been more or less right.
K’NEX: What inspires you?
Joey: Simple machines: doorknobs, clockwork, the shifter on my bike... the people that designed these things are really clever.